The World of Aernth started out as the setting for several role-playing games over a decade ago. Since that time it has grown and developed, until it took on a life of it's own. This setting in which over 70 participants have visited in their imagination, is now being converted to a digital format accessible on the World Wide Web. The following is a description of this setting from the point of view of several people who exist within this world.
Each issue of The Guild Companion will include a continuation of this description. The intention here is to give those viewing it ideas for the development of their own settings, or as a ready resource that can be used by Game Masters who have not designed a setting of their own, but want to utilize a fully developed world. I have endeavored to present the information in a manor that can be adapted to nearly any fantasy gaming system. You can place existing ideas for single session games or campaigns into the setting with little modification in most cases.
I hope that all of you will enjoy experiencing this world of fantasy as much as I have enjoyed developing it and GM-ing in it. I would also like to thank the six-dozen or so people who have helped out over the years, as participants and in helping to develop the details (yes, several others have contributed to this project over the years).
For reference a map of the city has been included.
As he steps off the ship, the traveler looks around at the constant bustle of the dockworkers preparing to unload the large sailing vessel. He is a man of average height and somewhat stocky of build, but with an unusually dark complexion for this part of the world. Short, straight black hair and a goatee adorn his head, while a long loose fitting brown robe with a matching cloth sash tied around his waist conceal his body. He smiles at the new surroundings, his face creased by the many sights and experiences of his 30 or so years of life.
The ships navigator walks down the plank and says, "Thengel? So..., never been to the grand city of Argentum before, eh?"
Thengel nods in agreement.
"Well, let me give ya a hint. When ya leave the Balandith docks, head straight for the tavern across the street from the gate here," the navigator says as he points to the north across the low, stone-arched bridge that connects the small island with the larger island of Argentum. He continues, "They have the best grub you's gonna find within walking distance for those weary sea legs o' your'n." The Innkeeper's a good friend o'mine. Ya' can also talk with old Balindar, he'll tell ya anything y'all wana know bout the cities here, or anyplace else in the world for that matter."
Thengel replies, "Thanks" and walks for the bridge with his worn brown cloth bag slung over his left shoulder, and checks his scimitar and dagger in their scabbards at his waist, just in case. After all, the streets of Argentum can be dangerous for a foreigner who doesn't know his way around, or so he has heard. As he walks around the massive stone block warehouse towards the bridge, he glances over to his right at the large mansion that dominates the other half of the small island. As he crosses the top of the bridge, he looks over the roofs of the warehouses on the main island that the City of Argentum covers. The warehouses line the shore of this almost 2 square mile island/city-state, evidence of an economy based on trade. Behind the warehouses he sees various shops with upstairs apartments forming the second ring of buildings around the island (several blocks deep). As Thengel walks down the bridge, the shops disappear behind the first row of warehouses. However, still visible above it all is the large solid stone, flat-topped hill that dominates the center of the island, seeming like a lone sentinel overlooking the otherwise relatively flat landscape of the Channel Region from his approach into port. Now closer he sees it is covered with huge manor houses and estates of the wealthy merchants who make Argentum their home.
He then glances to the west to see the sun, almost ready to drop behind the buildings that make up Gorled and Dorgard. He wonders what secrets the massive structures of the High Tower of Magic in Dorgard hold and what glories are hidden among the bell towers of the Grand Cathedral of the All Father in Gorled. The two towers are perched on either side of the Loudewater River rising high above the rest of the two cities on the west side of the channel that separates the two continents. Almost within catapult range of one another, the two towers seem to challenge one another for dominance, like a couple of drunken sailors in a tavern. He then decides that he will go and see first hand these massive buildings, as well as the largest structure within the five cities, the old Royal Palace of Martelain. According to rumor, the palace is now used to house troops of the Northern Empire's huge army to protect the Governor from assassination by his own people.
The stories of the political intrigue of the five Channel Cites is what lures most adventure seekers here to the heart of civilization in the world of Aernth. Fortunes wait to be won or lost among the warehouses and docks of Argentum. The turmoil, riots, and unrest in Martelain, once second only to Argentum in wealth and power; have reduced it to a half empty city full of burned out buildings and broken people. Those who remain try to squeak out a living from beneath the heels of the Northern Empire that wrested control from and then executed the old Royal family only a few decades ago.
There are frequent wars between the powerful Gorled Kingdom north of the Loudewater River and the fifteen Petty Kingdoms that all claim Dorgard as their mutual capital on the south side of the river. The ship's navigator had told him about the regular burning of the bridge that connects the cities of Gorled and Dorgard each time they have a squabble over anything. Then there are the rulers of the fifteen Petty Kingdoms, always vying for power and the upper hand. Finally, there is the "Gem" of the Channel Cities, South Shore, the huge city of freedom (and thieves), where skilled artisans can produce their goods and sell them to the merchants of Argentum for transport around the world. Some say the same freedom that allows South Shore to prosper contributes to the social turmoil that is common among the city's wide streets. Others say it has caused the corruption and degradation of morals that may one-day rival the legendary corruption of the former Ruglund Empire, which fell millennia ago.
'Twelve square miles of cities, that is staggering, and with three-quarters of a million people' he thinks to himself nodding. Then there is the darker side of the five cities, (there is always a dark side to every large city), but this will take some time to learn, as that kind of information does not travel the 1,000 miles to his homeland in the east.
"Well on to this tavern, to meet Balindar. He must truly be a man of the world if he is as knowledgeable as the navigator says."
The small, three-story Inn is constructed of the same grey cut stone that predominates the city. He had heard someone aboard the ship mention huge stone quarries southeast of South Shore, where much of this grey stone must have been quarried. The Inn is set in the middle of the block, directly across the street from the gate that limits access to the island that is Balandith Shipping's main warehouse and place of business. It also has a slate roof and a painted sign hanging over the door that says in fancy green letters:
Thengel walks up to the bar and asks the burly man behind it, "Can I get a large mug of hot spiced Cider, and some bread, and cheese?" As the man tops off a mug with a frothy beverage and glares at him, Thengel continues, "And I am also looking for a man named... Balindar? I think?"
The man grunts and nods then points to an older man sitting by himself at the table nearest to the hearth. The old man wears a worn blue hooded cloak, has long and grey hair, as is his beard and moustache. He appears to be of tall and thin build, and has a look of wisdom and experience about him, or else it is just the wreaths of smoke emerging from his intricately carved pipe that casts such an illusion. The older man smiles, as if listening to the talk of the other patrons, or maybe deep in his own thoughts.
"Can you bring it over to the table, and bring another of whatever he is drinking as well?"
The gruff barkeep says, "Seven copper pence."
The traveler pulls a full copper coin from his coin pouch and sits it on the bar saying, "Keep the change."
"Yeah, right. An' I suppose you want yer boots polished to," he replies with a sneer.
Thengel chuckles and then walks over to the table and stops.
The older man sits there for a moment not seeming to notice. Then after several moments, suddenly looks up with a start saying, "Hello there, stranger. From the east I see. Salinath blood I would guess. Have a seat my good fellow, I would like to hear the tales of your travels to this fair city of ours. That is, if you don't mind sharing them with me?"
Thengel swings his bag down to the floor part way under the table and sits on the three-legged stool opposite the older man. He replies with a strong eastern accent, "Yes, I am of Salinath lineage, you obviously know a lot about the peoples of the world. I would be more than happy to tell you my tales. But I would also like to find out a little about the Channel Cities in return, as I have traveled far to seek my fortune here."
A tall barmaid with long hair tied back in a ponytail brings over two mugs and sits one down in front of the older man and the other in front of the newcomer. She then sits down a basket with a large steaming loaf of fresh bread and a block of cheese in the middle of the table.
Balindar replies, "If a person is of pure blood it is not difficult just by looking at them. Hair, build, skin, eyes, clothing style, although this one can be the most misleading. And of course their way of speaking can give it away as well. For example, our server here is of Algleth bloodlines, as can be seen from her height and the long, thin, light-brown, almost blond hair. And her fair skin color and hazel eyes."
She says with a sarcastic smile, "And what bloodlines are you from then, old and mighty wise one?"
He smiles back saying, "That should be obvious. I am of Archendurn lineage."
She says, "Yeah, but how would a stranger know this, your hair has turned grey and while you are fairly tall, your height is common among several different peoples, including my own kind."
"Yes, but I have green eyes. The least common eye color there is among humans. That should give it away right there," the elderly man says.
Thengel tears off a piece of bread and a small piece of the cheese, taking a bite of each. After washing it down with a drink from his mug, he says, "I see that between the three of us, we have probably seen much of the world then. What with the young lady here being from the remains of the once powerful Ruglund Empire far to the west, and you fine sir being from lands less westerly than she."
She then says, "My homeland is not that close to the old Empire, but he," pointing to the elderly man, "has walked the Forbidden Plains himself. He also has stories about the mysterious Southern Continent that very few have ever visited. He even claims to have set foot on the Sacred Isle at the heart of the great Clearwater Lake, that is the center of the Druidical religion."
Thengel laughs, then says, "I can't imagine a lake as big as what I have heard about this Clearwater Lake. But then again, having grown up near the great Sea of Sands, the first time I ever laid eyes on the open sea, I was amazed by it's vastness."
"Clearwater Lake is a sea of sorts, it is just that rather than separating any large land masses, it is set in the middle of one. But like the other great seas, the narrowest parts are further than even the sharp eyed Elves of the Golden Woods can see across," The old man says with a smile as if remembering something. After staring off into nothingness for a moment, he finishes off the last of his old mug then he pulls the new mug closer, and continues, "Thanks. Druidry is more than a religion; it's a philosophy and culture that many others could learn a thing or two from. My name is Balindar Filost and this beautiful young lass is Alerelean. And what is your name, my friend?"
Alerelean waves her hand in greeting and says, "I have other patrons to see to. If you need anything, just call. If things slow down enough, I'll be back to listen to the stories that I'm sure the two of you will be telling till the wee hours of the morning. Maybe I'll even tell a few of my own."
The traveler finishes chewing another bite of the soft yellow cheese and takes another drink, then says, "I am Thengel, of the Bachsnean Clan. From a small village five days walk west of the coast of Arichniab. I have traveled much of the world myself, having worked my way down the coast of the Eastern Continent and around to some of the coastal areas of the Southern Continent. Then I spent some time in the far west, well beyond the remains of the old Ruglund Empire. I had to leave that area rather suddenly a few months back, so I jumped on board the first ship out of the region, and eventually ended up here. So you see I am interested to hear what you have to tell about this portion of the world, myself being a mercenary and bounty hunter by trade. I'm also interested in hearing of your travels around other parts of the world. For you never know when the need to take a sudden trip may present itself."
"Well what would you like to hear about first?"
Thengel says, "Tell me of this fair city of Argentum that surrounds us. Who truly rules here, and what goes on among the back streets and alleys? Later we can discuss the other cities."
Balindar laughs and says, "Right to the point. I can respect that. So you want to know the true secrets of the cities? Not the common knowledge that anyone can easily gather. That is truly asking a lot."
"Like I said, I'm a mercenary and bounty hunter by trade, so this type of information is my livelihood."
"Where to begin? As far as people of power, there is Turin Balandith. He is the most well known, and wealthiest of the merchants of Argentum, if not the wealthiest and most powerful merchant in the world. He tends to avoid the political scene though. As far as your services, he has his own extensive security staff, as do many of the wealthy merchants who reside on top of the hill." Balindar then takes a sip from his mug, and tears a piece of bread from the loaf and nibbles at it. "They say that they build their manors and estates on the hill so they can look down on the lowly commoners, making it easier to squash them into submission. Which is probably part of the reason that Turin is somewhat popular, being that he is the only one that does not live up there. And the fact that he treats his employees very well."
After taking another drink, Thengel says, "I've heard a lot about this Turin fellow. It was one of his ships that I traveled aboard to get here. The crew spoke very highly of him. I doubt that he will be of much interest to me though. It isn't very often that you hear about someone inheriting a large empire, whether it be land or wealth, without it going to their head."
Balindar replies, "Oh, but he never inherited anything. He came to this city much as you did today, with only what he could carry on his back. He built up his world-spanning trade empire himself. Some claim that he even has more ships at his disposal than the Glandbeln Pirates in the far west. But then again, he also owns the largest of the shipyards here in the Channel Cities."
"Let's not bring them into this. They're the reason that I came here, if you catch my meaning," Thengel says with a chuckle. "But how can someone gain that much wealth, even in a lifetime?"
"Because his lifetime exceeds mine and yours combined, by many centuries. He is of Elven blood, you know. However, he has something that is exceedingly rare among the Elven people, he has discipline and a sense of direction. Therefore he does not tarry like most of the Elven peoples do." Balindar taps the ash out of his pipe and pulls a leather pouch of tobacco from beneath his cloak. He continues as he fills his pipe, "When he sees an opportunity he jumps on it, instead of waiting for a hundred or so years to get around to it, only to find it no longer worth chasing."
Thengel then asks, "While he sounds interesting, I don't think he is really relevant to what I'm trying to learn. Are there any more merchants who dabble in the less visible or more secretive end of business? They are more the types that I am interested in."
"There are probably dozens of them. I can name a few possibilities." Then Balindar pulls a small splinter of wood from the same tobacco pouch and leans over to the hearth and lights it on the hot coals. He uses it to light his pipe, and after a couple of puffs, he asks, "So what did you do to make the Glandbeln Pirates angry, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Let's just say that I had a run in with one of old man Glandbel's sons. But that's a story for another time."
Balindar chuckles and shakes his head saying, "You have lived dangerously, my friend. You know they will not rest until you are no longer among the living."
"Yes, but that time will not come for a while yet. They are not likely to come to the Channel Cities in force just for me," Thengel says as he tears off another piece of cheese and takes a bite. "But you still have not told me who controls Argentum's darker side."
Balindar then continues, "If you must know, there are more than a dozen organized underworld guilds within the Channel Cities. Here in Argentum, the dominant ones are the Red Hoods, the Black Widows, and the Mist Riders. Of course the Black Widows and the Mist Riders also have a presence within other cities as well. Then of course there is... never mind."
Thengel looks quizzically at the old man, as he puffs on his pipe and then starts to speak again, "Some of the more prominent merchants include Thadeius Philistar, Bragen Sintol, Vairn Halgen, the Toldos family, Freim Dascol, Clanderneb, the Stien brothers that own the Silver Stien Brewery, Caleb Dingol, the Relinost family, and..." Thengel interrupts, "I will find out who the prominent merchants are in time. I am more concerned with the behind the scenes powers. You started to tell me about some one or some group, but stopped. Who was it?"
Balindar says, "The place for you to go is the Splaid Goat, or maybe the North Sea Mist Inn & Tavern. These places are the common hangouts of the darker side of Argentum's residents. The Silver Coin Tavern is another good place to visit, or maybe the Sailors Red Light Delights, or even the Dripping Blade down next to the Arena. As far as taverns where strange goings-ons occur, away from the guilds and such, there is the East Side Tavern or the Hillside Hostel. The Hillside is a scary place just to walk into, though. There is an eerie feel about the place."
"Who where you going to mention?" Thengel asks again with a stern look on his face.
The elderly man takes a sip of his mug, breathes deeply, and then says in a whisper as he leans across the table, "The Scorpion."
The room goes from quiet talk and the clatter of plate and cup to deathly silence...
Thengel looks around the room. Everyone in the place is staring at him and Balindar.
Balindar breathes deep again with a bit of a shudder.
Alerelean walks over to the table and says to Thengel, "If you want to know about the Scorpion, just wait. The Scorpion could very well visit you when you least expect it now, and you are not likely to enjoy the encounter in the least."
Thengel looks around, "Alright! I have never met anyone who could strike fear into peoples' hearts by the mere sound of his name. Is he truly that bad?"
Balindar says with a very stern look, "You left the far west out of fear of the Glandbeln Pirates. Old man Glandbel had come to the Channel Cities long ago and plied his mayhem here, making several powerful people very angry, including Balandith. Balandith contacted the Scorpion and it is said that he paid the Scorpion a very large sum to visit old man Glandbel. His small fleet, at that time, only about 30 ships, set sail the next morning, never to return this far east again. It is said that they have never, in the forty years since, attacked a single one of Turin Balandith's ships."
Balindar takes another long drink from his mug and continues, "You have to think that the Scorpion must have made quite an impression on old man Glandbel to scare him like that. He moved his operation half way around the world from the place where it would be the most profitable. Even the Gorled Navy was unable to deal with the fleet of the Pirate Lord, yet the Scorpion convinced him to leave and never again return with a single visit."
"As you can see, the Scorpion is not one to be trifled with. The assassin's guilds around the Channel Cities have joined together to offered a very large bounty for the head of the Scorpion, because of the competition. But none of the locals dare, and those visitors crazy enough to try, usually turn up floating in the channel or lying with a telltale dagger protruding from their chest. And these other guilds have been watching their backs like never before since they announced it. The Scorpion is the only reason for the other guilds to put aside their differences and work together."
"What do you mean, by telltale dagger?"
"The Scorpion's victim's are almost always found with a very high quality steal dagger, with the pommel made from ivory carved in the shape of a scorpion, thus the name," says Balindar, taking another drink from his mug.
Thengel looks around nervously and says, "So obviously he is way out of my league then. That is fine, I just want to know what type of environment I am up against here."
Balindar replies, "Yes out of your league, and everyone else's as well. And you should not refer to the Scorpion as a 'he`. No one knows if it is a he, she, it, or a large group. No one knows, or if they do, they are not saying where others can hear."
Alerelean then says, "It's a good thing that you realize now, just how dangerous the Scorpion can be. I was beginning to enjoy your company, but anyone stupid enough to go after the Scorpion is best to stay away from if you want to live long."
Thengel looks at her and replies, "Okay, we can change the subject then. So where can someone like myself go to find work plying my trade then?"
She says, "If you think you can hold your own in battle, then you can go to the Arena in the south-east corner of the city. They hold regular battles there, pitting slaves or those who are desperate enough to risk their lives for a gold coin against each other or against wild beasts. It is entertaining, for those willing to pay the Copper Coin fee to enter."
"Or you can check out some of the other taverns that I mentioned previously. There are nearly a hundred within Argentum alone," Balindar mentions.
Alerelean then says, "Maybe it would be best if you spent tonight in one of the other cities, after asking so many questions about the Scorpion. Maybe you should go down to South Shore or over to Martelain for a couple of days and lay low. Tell you what, I'll even go with you since a few of my customers left, and I can tell you a little bit more about the city of Argentum along the way."
Balindar then says, "You wouldn't be any safer in South Shore than here. If the Scorpion is going to visit you, there is nowhere safe to hide."
Taking another long puff from his pipe, he says, "If you want to know about the Black Widows, their contact is a blind storyteller who can usually be found sitting in either the Screaming Raven or the Splaid Goat up near the Channel Light Tower. His name is... Castinow..." Balindar squints his eyes in thought. "Varlon... if I remember correctly? Yes, Castinow Varlon. A somewhat tall, thin, dark haired, elderly man. If not at one of these places, he can be seen telling stories to children out on the streets around the city sometimes. But don't underestimate his lack of eyesight, for he knows what is going on around him with a clarity that is unreal. And his oversized walking stick has cracked plenty of thieving skulls in its day."
"Now we are getting somewhere," comments Thengel as he lifts his mug for another drink of his now grown-cold hot spiced cider.
Balindar continues, "The Red Hoods specialize in petty thievery and pick pocketing. They are easy to spot when not pilfering someone's coin purse. They wear red hooded cloaks, red hats, or red sashes around their foreheads or upper arms. As many of the guilds, they openly show who they are when not plying their trade, in the hopes of striking fear into the honest people of the city. They are a small time operation and limit their activities to Argentum."
"The Mist Riders are not so flamboyant, even though they wear their colors as well," says Alerelean. "They wear grey sashes, but often conceal them under grey cloaks. They only flash their sash in public to frighten actual victims. And you can imagine how many people in the streets of Argentum wear grey cloaks, only about half the residents of the city, as well as the other four cities. They also have a strong presence in the city of Gorled."
"Then there is the Brotherhood," Balindar says in a quiet voice. "Nearly as feared as the Scorpion, by the unknowing commoners. The Brotherhood has their fingers into anything and everything of an illegal nature within, and throughout, the Channel cities. But that is another story in itself. I'm afraid that I can't point you in their direction though."
Thengel smiles and looks at Alerelean, "Sounds like there is a lot to learn right here. Do you mind bringing three complete meals out for us? At my expense, of course. If you are going off-duty, that is? And a bottle of fine drink, maybe some brandy or whatever you prefer."
She smiles and says, "So you want me to start a tab for you then?"
"Sure, if you trust me that is," Thengel says with a laugh.
"Do you want me to add a room to your tab for the night, or are you going to take me up on the offer to walk you over to one of the other cities for the night?" she asks with a sly smirk.
"Yes, a private room sounds good. I think I'll be staying right here tonight." Then turning back to Balindar, Thengel asks, "This Brotherhood sounds interesting. But first maybe I should learn more about some of the other cities." He hums, strokes his goatee, then continues, "Maybe you can tell me about Martelain next."
As Alerelean walks towards the kitchens, Balindar replies with a chuckle, "For a meal and a bottle of brandy, I would be delighted to."